Monday, October 26, 2015

Meta-Ethics Notes

Meta-ethics notes for guest talk today. See below the fold.

Nathan Nobis
Associate Professor of Philosophy, Morehouse College

Moral Realism
Moral Anti-Realism (or Irrealism)

Moral Anti-Realisms:
-         Moral judgments are neither true nor false. (emotivisms; prescriptivism), or
-         (Positive) Moral judgments are false, because there are no moral facts or properties to make them true. (error theory; fictionalism)

Moral Realisms:
-         Some moral judgments are true.
o   Naturalism: Judgements are made true by “natural” facts. Moral properties are “natural” properties: an ethical science.
o   Non-naturalism: Moral properties are “non-natural” properties: no ethical science without an ethical intuition.

Meta-ethics: philosophical inquiry about the nature of moral or ethical judgments (more below). But what is ethics or morality?

Ethics (or Morality):
-         Actions being morally wrong, not wrong (permissible), obligatory:
o   Example: “The police killing innocent people is wrong.”
-         “Status of Affairs” being good or bad:
o   Examples: “Pleasure is good.”
-         People being good and bad (virtuous and vicious);
o   Examples: “Being kind and compassionate is virtuous.”
-         Societies being just or unjust; decisions fair or unfair.
o   Examples: “Preventing adults from voting is unjust and unfair.”

Meta-ethics: philosophical inquiry about the nature of moral judgments:
-         Philosophy of Language and Ethics:
o   Is the claim true or false? Neither true nor false?
-         Philosophy of Mind and Ethics:
o   Is the state of mind belief or/and desire?
-         Metaphysics and Ethics:
o   Are there moral facts? Moral truth-makers?
-         Epistemology and Ethics:
o   Is there moral knowledge? Reasonable or rational moral beliefs (?)?

Some Moral Anti-Realists from 20th Century Analytic Philosophy and their motivating concerns and arguments:
Ayer, Stevenson, Hare, Mackie and Harman

Some Moral Realists:
Russ Shafer-Landau, Michael Huemer, me…

AJ Ayer, an emotivist:
-         Motivating concern: logical positivism.
-         1. A judgments is meaningful (true or false) only if it is either analytic or empirically verifiable.
-         2. Moral judgments are neither analytic nor empirically verifiable.
-         3. Therefore, moral judgments are not meaningful, are neither true nor false.
-         Objections to realisms:
o   naturalism and open question argument, following Moore:  “This action produces the most pleasure, but is it a moral obligation?” Meanings are different, so different properties??   
o   non-naturalism and epistemological puzzlement. “Pleasure is good???”

Charles Stevenson, an emotivist:
-         Motivating concerns:
o   The “magnetism” of moral judgments.
-         4. Moral judgements are necessarily motivating.
-         5. Any ‘judgement’ that necessarily motivates is not a belief. (Desires motivate, beliefs do not).
-         6. Therefore, moral judgments are not beliefs.

o   Metaphysical puzzlement:
§  What would a moral fact be like? How could something make an action wrong?

RM Hare, a “universal prescriptivist”:
-         Motivating concerns:
o   Motivational Internalism: (See Stevenson).
o   Objections to realisms:
·        naturalism and open question argument;
·        non-naturalism and epistemological puzzlement.
§  Yet, thought that there are “rational” constraints on moral judgments.

JL Mackie, an “error theorist,” meaning, all (positive) moral judgments are false:
-         Motivating concerns:
o   The “queerness” of moral judgments: “motivational internalism”, again. (See Stevenson)
§  Moral disagreements.
7. There is widespread disagreement about whether various actions are wrong or not: there is moral disagreement.
8. The best explanation of this disagreement implies that there are no moral facts.
(If there were moral facts, then there would be less disagreement, because more people would see these facts).
9.    Therefore, there are likely no moral facts.

-         Gilbert Harman (called himself a relativist; seems like his concern better supports an error theory):
o   Motivating concerns:
§  Moral Disagreements.
§  “Moral Explanations:
10. We should believe that a property exists only if it helps us explain observable phenomena.
11. Moral properties don’t help explain observable phenomena.

Ex. Was slavery eventually widely opposed because of its injustice or moral wrongness, or can we explain why people opposed slavery without positing moral properties (e.g., they opposed it just because of their beliefs and attitudes..)?

12. Therefore, we should not believe that moral properties exist

Conclusions about arguments for moral anti-realisms?

The alternative: realisms.
          Objections to realisms?


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